Gail Hobbs-Page and Daniel Page established Caromont Farm in 2007. They now have over 125 goats on their farm in Esmont, Virginia, including le manchas, saanens, and alpines. The goats are grass-based but do eat some grain.
Gail grew up on a peanut and tobacco farm in eastern NC. After school and a brief stint as a school teacher, she entered the restaurant scene in Chapel Hill, working at Fearrington House and Magnolia Grill where she learned the “’field-to-fork’ brand of cooking.” Gail says, “I knew no other way to write menus or source product. Honestly, I had never even heard of Sysco Foods!” She carried this practice north to Virginia when she married and bought a farm, and she gained a reputation for good food; but she couldn't shake the idea of farming and making cheese. Eventually, she borrowed money to buy equipment and 13 goats. At her first farmer’s market, she sold out of her fresh chevre.
Since then, Caromont Farm has grown. They acquired more goats and began selling to restaurants, wineries, and specialty stores. Gail attended the Vermont Institute for Artisanal Cheese, which she describes as “the best investment in my business and myself that I could have ever made.” They milk every day at 6 am and 6 pm. When they do have leisure time, they spend it with their animals. Gail likes to walk to the stream that runs through the farm; the goats follow her and play on the rocks.
Gail turns the goat’s milk into farmstead cheeses including the Esmontonian, a semi-hard raw milk cheese in the Manchego style. It is aged 90 days.The Esmontonian expresses milky notes that yield to grassy, roasted onion notes. It is an American Cheese Society award winner, taking 2nd place in 2013 in the European-style/American-made category. Caromont Farm is a stone's throw from the tiny town of Esmont, and the members of the village are proud to call themselves "esmontonians." This cheese is named for them.
Caromont also buys cow milk from nearby Silky Cow Farm in North Garden, Virginia. Silky Cow Farm has 38 exclusively grass-fed Jersey cows on 125 acres. Gail makes four-pound washed-rind tomes of Red Row cheese from this milk. Albemarle County is the center of Virginia apple production and produces hard cider as well. Red Row cheese is washed in cider from Albemarle Cider Works; the heirloom apples’ flavor complements the cheese and creates a Piedmont original. Red Row is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese. The cider washing gives it a distinct orange rind. It has a soft, velvety texture with hints of butter, barnyard, and yeast.
When asked what she likes best about being a cheese-maker, Gail begins a list: providing a good life for the animals; looking out the dairy window at the goats while making cheese from their milk; the challenges of learning science, chemistry, and affinage; meeting supportive cheese-making mentors; and seeing Caromont on the menus of her chef colleagues. Gail tells the interns, "Our first contract is with the animals; everything that we do depends on them.” She’s overcome many hurdles, such as being a female farmer in rural Virginia, finding equipment suitable for a small dairy, and learning all the roles necessary as a farmstead producer (vet tech, electrician, nutritionist, craftsman, public relations specialist, human resources manager, accountant, marketing professional...), and there are constantly new challenges, like complying with new goverment regulations. “Eventually the romanticism of cheese-making has to be balanced with the reality of what you have chosen to do,” says Gail. Yet she acknowledges, “This way of life can change you, and teaching others how to do it can change life for them.” When she “retires,” she intends to work at a farm-related organization, to “go out in the field and make a difference as long as I am able.”
“We love farming, we love this part of Virginia, and we are driven to express all of that in cheese.”
Read more at their website, www.caromontfarm.com (under construction)